There’s lots of advice available about how to co-parent with young kids, but less for co-parenting with teenagers.
Is this because, as they are older, they are expected to cope?
Hopefully not because having co-parented toddlers to teens, I can tell you that teens need just as much support, if not more.
Here is some genuine advice from my own experience to help if you are co-parenting your infuriatingly wonderful teens.
CO-PARENTING WITH TEENAGERS
EXPECT NEW EMOTIONS
If, like was the situation in our family, the separation happens while your children are young, you might expect them to be “used to it” by the time they hit their teens years.
And yes, they might have accepted being co-parented as their new normal, but as they grow, they will have new perspectives on the situation. This, in turn, will create new questions and might need different coping mechanisms.
For example, as they learn more about human behaviour and relationships, they might question “why” their parents relationship broke up and want age-appropriate answers.
Be ready for new emotions and allow your teens to express them.
UNDERSTAND THEIR BRAINS!
Understanding teenagers is a minefield!
This is because their brains are changing and developing during these all-important years.
It also explains why your once-sweet child may turn into the Exorcist overnight (yes, I half expected to see my daughters head turn 360 degrees at the dinner table).
These changes in the adolescent brain can cause many issues such as their inability to communicate, erratic behaviour, different sleep patterns and so much more.
I’m no scientist but I found The Teenage Brain by Frances E Jensen hugely helpful in guiding my teens as a co-parent. Rather than being annoyed by their new exasperating habits, my newfound knowledge allowed me to show compassion and understanding which definitely helped to calm the farm.
GIVE THEM SOME SLACK
Teens have a lot going on. Even more so if they live between two homes.
Each parent is likely to be laying down new teenager rules, possibly different ones, and this can be confusing and overwhelming.
Pulling back on some rules is an effective way of making them feel understood. It also shows that you trust them and that you’re on their side.
I know this goes against the grain, but I have honestly found that leniency can be more effective, so long as their safety is not jeopardised in any way.
SHOW LOVE … NO MATTER WHAT
I am too ashamed and embarrassed to share some of the awful thoughts I had about my teens during the most challenging years. Instead, I’ll say I always loved them, but at times I found it hard to like them.
Yet, just like toddlers, our teens need to know they are loved, always.
When they are at the other parent’s house send them a message each day to tell them you love them, even just a few kisses. When they come back from the other parent’s home, try not to go into battle mode, instead show them how happy you are to have them home.
They might pretend to hate it, but knowing they are loved, even when your relationship is tense, is incredibly important.
MORE TIPS TO CO-PARENT TEENAGERS
GET THE TONE OF THE CONVERSATION RIGHT
Learning “how” to talk to your teen is paramount. If you don’t get it right, they can clam up and I will tell you from experience that a silent teen is scarier than a screaming teen.
According to Beyond Blue:
“Part of helping your young person develop into an independent adult is respecting their choices – providing support and guidance, but also space for them to work things out for themselves. This means the way you communicate together also has to change – and this shift is often just as hard for parents as it is for young people.”
Create an environment in which open conversations are part of the routine. Learn to listen and show respect for whatever your teen is telling you because it clearly matters to them.
If they need to talk about the other parent, remember to keep your emotions in-check and think carefully before responding. No child, whatever their age, will want to hear a parent being bad-mouthed.
ACCEPT THEIR DECISIONS
As your child hits their teenage years, they might want more say in how they are co-parented. I have found it worthwhile to respect this.
Living between homes is hardest in the teenage years as they become responsible for the logistics. Plus, tight friendship groups or romantic relationships might mean they don’t want to move from one area to another.
One of our daughters chose to live with me full-time when she was 16. Our other daughter decided at 14 that she wanted to change from week-on-week-off to two-weekly. Both these decisions yielded great results and I am glad we respected them.
Understand that (in many situations) your teens know what is best for them and allow them to try their ideas, however disruptive it might be to your own life.
JUST GIVE … WITH NO EXPECTATIONS
Raising teenagers is a huge responsibility, especially when you have to relinquish control to another parent with different parenting styles.
We feel as though what we teach them now will affect them for the rest of their lives. We worry that if they don’t pull their weight around the home, they will grow up to be lazy humans who will be unemployable, drive future partners mad and ultimately end up alone. Consequently, we are always on them to be responsible, to be tidy and to pull their weight.
They see this as nagging!
Instead of always having expectations from them, try showing them that you are on their side with simple gestures that will make them feel happy and loved, such as:
- If they are lazing in bed all morning, instead of shouting at them to get up and tidy their room. Take them a cuppa, give them a cuddle and tell them to relax if they need it. You might find they are up and on it sooner than you think.
- If they are going to movies with friends, give them $10 for popcorn to share. Don’t ask for anything in return. Just give. You might find they are home on time without the usual dramas.
SHOW THEM THE BENEFITS
If your teens are struggling with being parented by separated parents and living between two homes, help them see the benefits.
My ex-partner is a lot more relaxed with rules around our teens social life, they have relative freedom, getting the bus around town, grabbing take-aways and staying at friends. Yet, when they come to mine, I like to know where they are and will drive them around, pick them up late from parties and feed them healthy, home-cooked food.
Neither parenting style is right or wrong, just different, and you can translate it back to your teens as them having the best of both worlds.
HELP WITH CO-PARENTING TEENAGERS (CONT.)
HAVE FLEXIBLE BOUNDARIES
Teenagers change so quickly. One moment they are as sweet as pie laughing at all your jokes and next, they are grunting, eye-rolling and are almost unrecognisable. Only to change back again a year or so later.
As a result, be flexible with the boundaries you set for them. What worked when they were 15 is likely not to work when they are 16.
Let them know you see them and you understand their needs so you are changing boundaries according to their behaviour and their situation as co-parented children.
Hard, fast, set rules don’t always work with our fast-growing, transient teen
WORK WITH THE OTHER PARENT (IF YOU CAN)
It’s not always easy, or even possible, to work with the other parent but if you are on the same page as parents, it is a gift for your teenage children.
Remember, our teens are getting super-clever and will play their parents off against each other, which is an easy game if said parents are not on speaking terms.
If you are unable to work together, be aware of how your ex is parenting and try to complement and balance out their parenting style with your own to make life as easy as possible for your teen.
For example, my ex was very lenient which meant I couldn’t be a strict as I would have liked as it was too hard on my daughters to manage the extremes between homes.
BE A ROLE MODEL
Whether we like it or not, we are always role models to our children. Scary thought, I know.
As your teens enter their own relationships, whether romantic or friendships, they learn values from both their parents.
These includes everything from communication, work ethic, use of alcohol, coping mechanisms and how much we respect and love ourselves.
Remember, you are being watched and your behaviour may be mirrored by your no-so-mini-me’s.
CHECK FOR RED FLAGS
When your teen is living between two homes and is displaying normal moody teen behaviour it could be hard to spot signs of serious anxiety or depression.
According to HealthDirect:
“One in 4 young people are affected by mental health problems and disorders.”
You know your teen best, but just some signs that might suggest they are depressed include:
- Becoming socially withdrawn
- Not sleeping or eating properly
- Struggling at school
- Signs of alcohol or drug use
- Loss of interest in friends and activities they once enjoyed
If you are worried, speak to the other parent and/or your teenager’s school. They will be able to take note of his/her behaviour when you are not around and fill in any gaps.
Further reading: Addiction and drug facts every parent needs to know.